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Eoin Donnelly is fighting fit as he leads Ernemen's title hunt

By John Campbell

Published 12/05/2016

Midfield dynamo: Eoin Donnelly is seen as the heartbeat of the Fermanagh side
Midfield dynamo: Eoin Donnelly is seen as the heartbeat of the Fermanagh side

Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly finds himself facing a double-pronged challenge as he prepares to lead his side into the Ulster senior football championship.

The Coa clubman is currently undergoing treatment for a troublesome hamstring problem having previously undergone surgery for a hand injury and, as well as his physical travails, he is also coming to terms with the higher level of expectation on the part of the team's mushrooming army of followers.

The Ernesiders have never won the Ulster crown although they reached the All-Ireland semi-finals in 2004 via the qualifier route and galloped into the 2008 provincial decider only to fall to Armagh after a replay.

But now in the aftermath of last year's championship odyssey that took them into the All-Ireland quarter-finals where they lost to Dublin and a recent league campaign that saw the side cement its place in Division Two, midfield dynamo Donnelly acknowledges that the bar has been raised substantially for his players.

And given the level of football fever currently engulfing the county he is hoping to be at concert pitch for Sunday's clash with Antrim at Brewster Park.

"I've had surgery a couple of times to my hands over the past couple of years, the most recent injury coming against Clare last year in the league. I've played in a number of games since, but it was still a problem that required attention and now it appears to be fine," said Donnelly.

"The county board have been very helpful in terms of my treatment and recovery and now I'm almost over my hamstring problem, which I picked up while playing for my club."

It is a measure of how far Fermanagh have progressed that Donnelly clings to the belief that his side could have reaped more from their league campaign.

"We should have done better in a couple of games, while there were a few that were very tight and we just managed to get through them," said the skipper.

"Now our aim is to get more championship games under our belt. This is the third year that we have had Peter McGrath in charge and I think we have seen a big change since he came in."

"The team is improving as we go along and the players he is bringing in are helping to make us even better. The few extra matches we had last year really helped the side to develop and we're looking for more of the same now."

When Fermanagh cocked a snook at the form book by reaching the last four of the All-Ireland title race in 2004, they took the GAA world by storm.

It was only after a replay that they fell to Mayo with Ryan McCluskey, who is currently injured, the only member of that team still in the current squad.

Similarly, when they scorched into the 2008 Ulster final, the Ernemen again defied the odds, giving Armagh a serious scare in their first meeting before they triumphed in the replay.

But today Fermanagh, far from being viewed as the Cinderella side, are a potent, ambitious, fiercely-committed force armed with a clear belief that they can make a bold bid to write their name into the history books.

Donnelly, now in his fifth year in the squad, perhaps best epitomises the strong yearning to get to the top of the provincial tree.

Nor is the refreshingly honest engine-room giant slow to admit that his side have had their problems in the not too distant past.

"Let's face it, there was turmoil a few years ago and we did not know what to expect when we tried to move forward," added Donnelly.

"You could say that we started from a blank canvas. Things started to improve from where we were before, Peter Canavan came in and did his stint and brought us on and now Peter McGrath has taken us to where we are today."

"We are going in the right direction but we can take nothing for granted.

"It's tremendous to see the level of support we are getting but the people now expect us to deliver. We will be doing our utmost to ensure that we don't let them down."

Belfast Telegraph

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